“What is it about that?” Helen Hunt’s character asks Paul Reiser’s in the sitcom “Mad About You”; “that” referring to the heterosexual male’s obsessive fascination with physical intimacy between two attractive women. “You guys REALLY like it.”
“Well,” he begins. “I agree with both of them…”
Felice (Maria Schrader) has that effect for sure on both men and more than her fair share of woman. A lithe, dark-eyed beauty — think a tall Pat Benatar — she lives on the edge as an Allied spy with her girlfriend Ilse (Johanna Wokalek) at Ground Zero of the Third Reich, Berlin. This in and of itself would be dangerous enough and her lifestyle scandalous enough for that day in age. Throw in the additional major complication that she’s Jewish and it’s understandable why Felice tries to live each day to the utmost.
This, probably more than anything, explains why she throws logic and caution to the wind when she first lays eyes on Lilly (Juliane Kohler). Sure Lilly’s attractive, but she would also seem to be an odd target of seduction for a Jewish lesbian. Married to Gunther (Detlev Buck),a German officer fighting on the Eastern Front and the mother of four children, the Aryan housewife desperately searches for love from a veritable Wehrmacht parade of Nazi officers. She’s also told Ilse, ironically her housekeeper and Jewish as well, that she can “smell” Jews.
Yet, love, as they say, is blind and apparently odorless, for soon Felice has dumped Ilse for the clueless and sheltered Lilly. This being a love story involving Jews and Nazis, however, the viewer watches “Aimee & Jaguar” — fictional names Felice gives them both to calm Lilly their first time together — just waiting for the other foot to fall. When it does, it’s with all the devastating power a jack-booted Nazi stormtrooper can muster.
Max Farberbock’s film does many things well with an occasional misfire. Schrader is so irresistible, I wish I was a lesbian, while Kohler does a fine job as the foolish Nazi Stepford wife. (“Life is wonderful. You’re free,” she proclaims to her lover, oblivious to Felice’s constant fear for her life. In America, Lilly would be a sorority girl.) For that matter, all the supporting characters are solid and distinctly drawn individuals; traits taken, I assume, from the book by Erica Fisher. Cinematographer Tony Imi overdraws his sepia quota a little bit, particularly in the (few) love scenes, but the film still looks wonderful. Best of all, the film provides a sobering look at the terror and paranoia under Nazi Fascism as well as a fascinating, rarely portrayed glimpse of life in a war-ravaged Berlin long past the glorious days of blitzkrieg.
Still, there are problems; not the least of which is the weakly handled way Felice and Lilly fall in love. To the viewer, Lilly comes across as just another pretty lady. Farberbock never lets his audience see her through Felice’s eyes; never provides a rationale for why this intelligent woman would literally risk her life for a straight, racist mother of four. Yes, sometimes these things just happen and yes, “Aimee & Jaguar” is based on a true story. But with most love stories, it’s pretty easy to tell why the couple is together. Here, it simply seems to be because the writers and the director said so. So, there.
There are other quibbles as well: too much meandering in the middle, for instance, and a lack of a clear explanation as to what exactly Felice and her clique of Jewish lesbian friends do in the underground.
“Aimee & Jaguar” is an enchanting and provocative love story nonetheless, in spite of these flaws. In the end, you, too, will agree with both of them.